Science and faith: Can’t we all just get along?

Anyone who is surprised by the recent backlash from hyper-rational militant atheist writers and thinkers clearly has not been paying attention.

As religious fundamentalists have dug in their heels, forcing such ignorant pseudo-scientific principles as New Earth Creationism into textbooks and school districts, the push provoked a visceral response from the scientific community. Most notable among the atheist polemicists is Richard Dawkins, with his best-selling book, “The God Delusion.”

In effect, what the religious extreme has done is successfully give a platform for rational fundamentalism. History certainly would have predicted this reaction, but perhaps this isolated, agenda-driven arm of religion simply does not care.

As critical as I am of “my way or the highway” religious rhetoric, I’m equally disappointed in the vitriol of the rationalists who feel not only that they must take on what they view as dangerous faith views, but also God and the entirety of human faith in the process.

In a recent issue of Scientific American, two scientists, Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, discuss the ways in which people of science can communicate with faith communities, if at all.

Happily, though some like Dawkins seem to lump religious fundamentalism in with the complete human faith experience, others like Krauss are more measured in their approach. Though neither claims any faith in a divine entity, Krauss sees an opportunity for science to help enrich faith by illuminating some pockets of ignorance within some religious thinking. Dawkins, however, would just as soon see the entire construct of human faith in God dismantled and eradicated.

“I think religion is bad science,” says Dawkins to Krauss in the article, “whereas you think it is ancillary to science.” The two proceed to debate the inherent nature and role of faith in the human organism, revealing a broad complexity of views even within the scientific community.

“I do not think we will rid humanity of religious faith any more than we will rid humanity of romantic love,” claims Krauss, “or many of the irrational but fundamental aspects of human cognition.” Dawkins argues this point passionately, however. Though he acknowledges that such non-rational dimensions of human experience as love and appreciation for art help make life worth living, and may even be tangentially related to rationality, faith is not.

“Positively irrational beliefs and superstitions are a different matter entirely,” says Dawkins. “Isn’t it . . . condescending to assume that humans at large are constitutionally incapable of breaking free of them?”

While Krauss is content to illuminate through rational means, Dawkins prefers to argue a personal agenda. In doing so, he comes across much like the Bible-banging fundamentalists who claim, rather arrogantly, “Reality is as I say it is: nothing more and nothing less. End of conversation.”

Krauss offers perhaps the most helpful clarification about his desire for the future relationship between faith and science when he says, “What we need to try to eradicate is not religious belief, or faith, it is ignorance. Only when faith is threatened by knowledge does it become the enemy.”

Krauss’ issue, then, seems to be more with ignorance promoted by rigid, unyielding faith practices. Dawkins, on the other hand, is in attack mode against all strains of faith.

There are glimmers of the source of resistance Dawkins has when he refers to New World Creationists, fundamentalism and much of the harm done in the name of faith throughout history. To this point, I stand in agreement with both him and Krauss – that such damaging and ignorant positions should be challenged.

However, for a rationalist who can no more prove the nonexistence of God than a fundamentalist can prove the existence of the divine, his short-sighted – and I would argue, emotionally based – objections sever any possibility of reconciliation or further communication.

This sort of fundamentalism, whether based in faith or rationalism, is at the source of more pain than healing. Even for someone like Dawkins, who claims morality from a humanist context, this sort of rhetoric is hurtful and essentially flawed. Some might even argue he’s made a religion of his own militant belief in atheism.

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